Belonging, Dignity, and Inclusion
The first time that I ever set foot upon an independent school campus was when I interviewed for my first teaching position 18 years ago at a prestigious high school in the most affluent neighborhood of a major city. It was an entirely different world than I’d experienced before, having attended public schools from kindergarten through graduate school. And despite working at this high school for three years amongst wonderful colleagues and students, I never quite got over the feeling that I was a guest in this exclusive realm—that my membership could be revoked at any moment.
As Deerfield Academy’s Director of Inclusion and Community Life, I never want any of our students to feel this same sense of anxiety or marginalization. For this reason, the primary mission of the Office of Inclusion and Community Life (OICL) is to create a school community in which every student feels that Deerfield Academy is his/her/their home, and where each possesses a genuine sense of belonging.
A necessary condition of belonging is dignity: recognizing and respecting each person’s inherent worth. Equally important, all Deerfield students should understand the significant harm that can result from violating others’ dignity. Because such (often unintentional) violations are inevitable within any community, we support our students in taking responsibility for their actions and repairing damaged relationships. In turn, we also place a high value on grace and forgiveness. It is via these fundamental values and reciprocal restorative practices that we embrace the ongoing challenge of building an inclusive community for all of our students.
Deerfield’s diversity is a critical component of our students’ education and preparation for the world beyond our campus. Indeed, the greatest value of living and learning within such an intentionally diverse community are countless opportunities to interact with peers from so many different backgrounds. Each encounter is a moment of potential discovery and growth. However, cultivating positive relationships across a myriad of possible differences is not a simple or easy endeavor. We don’t presume that our students arrive at Deerfield with the life experiences and skills necessary to successfully navigate such complex interpersonal dynamics. For this reason, I aim to provide students with the guidance to enhance their emotional intelligence, strengthen their emotional resilience, and skillfully engage in productive dialogue with one another.
I never worry about Deerfield students being prepared for university coursework. Our curriculum is rigorous, our faculty are talented and dedicated to their craft, and our academic support services are robust. I know our graduates will thrive in their university classrooms, laboratories and artistic spaces. I do, however, worry about whether our students have the necessary mindsets and skills to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex and polarized society. As a long-time educator, I actually believe that this is both vitally important to our students’ lived experience and more difficult to achieve. The Office of Inclusion and Community Life’s mission is to teach Deerfield students how to thrive beyond academic and professional success. Our students become worthy of their heritage by realizing their full humanity. Please accept my warm welcome to Deerfield Academy!
A fully inclusive and supportive school culture that embraces and honors the individuality of each student requires systematic effort across every dimension of school life. This is the foundation upon which our Strategic Plan for Inclusion was built, and our Vision Statement for Inclusion is as follows: “We are a community that values and affirms the distinct identities and differences of each person. Diverse perspectives fuel creative and innovative thinking, build empathy and consideration, and provide varied skills and experiences from which the entire community benefits. As a community, we consider cultural competency essential to the pursuit of excellence and success, both on campus and beyond.”
Our student handbook and policies make clear that Deerfield does not tolerate hateful speech. In furtherance of our expectations for respectful and responsible behavior on and off campus, we are in the process of conducting a comprehensive review of our policies to ensure that they are well understood and the consequences are clear across our campus community. That review will continue over the course of the fall and include input from students, parents, and faculty.